3 December 2016
In a previous post, I asked the question: if we listen quietly to our selves, with an underlying compassion and self-care, what do we hear? What is our call to action in our current social, political and economic circumstances? Or, to put it another way, what is the future calling from us, individually and collectively?
We are living at a time of rapidly increasing complexity. And there is often an unspoken assumption that growing complexity is inevitable, and all we can do is learn to live with it. It's tied to the assumption that constant and unending economic growth is a necessity for prosperity, which in turn is tied to the assumption that each succeeding generation's lifestyle should be economically more substantial than the previous. It is the belief in constant increase, which comes with a promise of greater happiness and more freedom.
However it's not working out like that. Happiness does not increase proportionally with increasing wealth. After our basic necessities are covered, the resources required for the additional car in the garage and the annual overseas holiday bring proportionally little increase in happiness (what the researchers call emotional wellbeing). Australians, who rank 15th on a list of the world's richest countries, have one of the lowest amounts of leisure time. In a world survey of countries looking at whether people achieve long, happy, sustainable lives, it was Costa Rica that came out on top.
An argument put forward by the social commentator Paul Arbair, is that we have for some time been moving towards diminishing returns on complexity. As our social, economic and political systems become more complex, so the resources required to control and maintain them increase. This, he argues, leads to a situation of diminishing returns. We create systems of greater and greater complexity, requiring greater and greater energy to control and maintain, for less and less reward. The balance of energy required to keep growing and maintaining control of the complexity eventually becomes unsustainable.
As we become less able to control the complexity we are creating, the political, economic and social systems become more unstable and unpredictable. We then become confused. And in our confusion we long for and grasp at simple answers ("let's build a wall on the Mexican border!") that cannot meet the requirements of our complex predicaments.
But that does not mean the wish to simplify is misdirected.
As I see it, the wish to simplify is part of the call of our time. But then we need to ask what is the underlying motivation underneath that wish. An underlying motivation of fear can lead to simplifying but accompanied by fragmentation. The fragmentation pushes the complexity and its unpredictability onto someone else in the social system. Unsustainable inequality continues. An underlying motivation of love can lead to simplifying and enduring interconnection - sustainable simplicity. Two very different outcomes.
Can we, with mindfulness, love and compassion, start to let go of bigger-and-more is better? Can we, with compassionate awareness, begin to de-escalate complexity and welcome the satisfaction and beauty of simplicity? This can start immediately. Can you walk as a free, self-responsible, self-caring and compassionate person, right now? Can you take your next in-breath without worry and wanting the next thing? Can you smile at another person without expectation? Can you find a flow in your life, rather than always striving for the next thing? Can you see the simple beauty that is already here? This is where sustainable simplifying can begin. Start with yourself. And then remain curious and engaged with what follows.